We’ve been through a lot with our Peugeot RCZ R longtermer. It’s been an unconventional tracking car, has taken the worst that winter can throw at it, and has even been used as a paintball gun platform. But there’s been one nagging question since the day we took the keys: can you really consider buying an RCZ over its chief rival, the Audi TT? Before handing back the keys to Peugeot, we got it together with Ingolstadt’s coupe in 227bhp front-wheel drive flavour to find out.
When CT founder Adnan arrived in the Peugeot at the shoot location (the obscenely posh town of Eton) to meet photographer Jayson and I in the Audi, it was clear that round one had already gone to the German camp. The RCZ-R is - to my eyes at least - the prettier car, with its purposefully squat stance, swoopy double-bubble roof and elongated rump, but the exterior build quality is a long way off the Audi’s. The TT’s consistently wafer-thin panel gaps make the Peugeot’s look positively gaping, and that theme of lacklustre build quality continues inside.
At that point I’d spent a good few days getting to grips with the TT and its fantastically minimalist interior. The 12.3-inch screen that acts as both the instrument binnacle and infotainment system is well thought out and easy to use, and there’s the clever decluttering solutions like having the climate control dials mounted on the vents themselves, complete with digital readouts.
‘Heading out to some curvy roads, I wondered if the TT was about to unceremoniously twist the knife that it had already thrust into the RCZ R’s abdomen’
The RCZ R’s interior is…a little different. Actually in contrast, it’s a bit of a mess inside. It’s not helped by the fact that Peugeot’s coupe still uses the underpinnings of the old 308 hatchback - it’s really quite dated in there. The centre console is cluttered with tiny, cheap-feeling buttons, and the nasty plastic that surrounds it looks like it’s had a load of glittery nail polish lobbed at it.
The nav system is woeful meanwhile; it’s generally a faff to use and is mounted on a touch screen that’s too damn far to reach without an awkward stretch - even with my gangly arms. The one ray of light is the fabulous hip-hugging seats, which look like they’ve been pinched from a Lamborghini.
The issues continue when you’re driving around town: the diff has a tendency to clunk when you’re manoeuvring, the low-speed ride is choppy, and the sharp throttle makes it tricky to pootle about smoothly.
When we left town and headed out to some curvy roads, I wondered if the TT was about to unceremoniously twist the knife it had already thrust into the RCZ R’s abdomen with a far superior drive? Initial signs were troubling for the French car: the TT’s six-speed manual gearbox offers a slick, short-throw change, grip is reasonable, and the front wheels handle the 227bhp and 230lb ft of torque without sending bucket-loads of torque steer through the well-weighted steering. Oh, and as a bonus, the wheel itself is a thing of beauty.
However, I just wasn’t having that much fun. It’s plenty quick - official figures give a 0-62mph time of six seconds dead - but the whole driving experience is a bit too subdued and characterless. And when you really start to push, the front-end washes wide all too easily, while the body rolls a little more than you’d like. The competent but not-awfully-exciting drive is a big chink in the TT’s armour, and the RCZ R is right there to exploit it.
Jumping back into the Peugeot to boot it down the same bit of road, I began to forgive it for all the annoying aspects I’d experienced earlier. Yes, the suspension is firm, but that means it’s much more composed in the corners. Sure, the throttle is a bit twitchy for driving around town, but out in the country, you appreciate the sharpness. Oh, and that diff that clunks when you manoeuvre? It’s magic in the corners. The way it drags you out of each corner - keeping your line nice and tight - is addictive. And it means the 267bhp and 243lb ft of torque can be put down on the road effectively.
The steering feels quicker and sharper - with better feedback too. And while the engine doesn’t have the satisfying mid-range punch or throaty exhaust note of the well-sorted TFSI engine in the Audi (the unit in the Peugeot sounds a bit underwhelming), the 1.6-litre lump is a satisfyingly revvy little thing for a turbocharged engine.
With the day drawing to a close and snapper Jayson finishing the last of his pictures, there was nothing left but to mull over which of these I’d recommend. On the price front, the RCZ-R initially looks to be better value. It’s reasonably well appointed as standard and will set you back £32,250, and while the Audi may be £29,860 in base ‘Sport’ trim, if you option it as close as possible to the RCZ R - adding things like sportier seats, parking sensors, cruise control and nav - you’re looking at closer to £34,000. If you want 19-inch rims as per the Peugeot (something we think the TT needs because the 18s looked a little lost in those arches) you’ll have to splash out even more and go for the ‘S Line’ version.
It’s not quite as simple as that, however, as the considerably better built Audi does feel worth the extra, and even though the navigation is part of a £1795 package, it’s a price worth paying when it’s genuinely brilliant, unlike the Peugeot’s system which made me want to have a fracas with the dashboard. Then there’s the whole premium badge thing, which - as much as I wish it wasn’t - is a big deal for a lot of people.
Make no mistake, the TT would be far easier to live with, is more pleasant to drive when you’re not on the limit, and is impeccably well put together. Perhaps the TT S will change this (we’ll find out when we drive it later this month), but for now if you’re a keen driver, you need to get the RCZ R. Trust me. Every aspect of the way it drives when you’re kicking its head in is leaps and bounds ahead of the TT, and I guarantee after a hoon in both, the Peugeot’s the one that’ll put the bigger smile on your face. Badge snobs be damned.